Personal autonomy and the flexible school

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The paper starts by emphasizing the importance of the ideal of personal autonomy as a central educational aim within liberal-democratic thought. Although this ideal has been accorded different meanings in the past 200 years, this paper focuses on J. S. Mill's view of autonomy - a very influential view within the liberal tradition and one still relevant for us today. The basic educational recommendation stemming from Mill's view of this ideal is the need to encourage "experimentation in living" by young people to enable them to discover their authentic wishes, capabilities and interests and to exercise themselves in the formation of "life-plans". The paper points to the sharp contradiction between democratic educational thought and practice: between the ideal of autonomy and the prevailing rigid and closed school structure which usually prevents true experimentation in living. It explains this contradiction as stemming from didactic and social considerations that were valid in industrial democratic societies. The paper's main claim is that due to the electronic revolution and its social consequences, the validity of these considerations is drastically and rapidly eroding in post-industrial democratic societies, and that, therefore, a much more flexible and open school structure is today not only desirable but also didactically and socially possible. The paper ends by presenting the "School as a Communications Center" model of a flexible school that reflects the above rationale. This model is now in the first stage of its implementation at a comprehensive high-school in Beer-Sheva, Israel.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)419-433
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Review of Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Sep 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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